Twenty years ago, my father took a picture of me holding a disc on the beaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Wearing diapers, I had the disc in a four-fingered forehand grip and looked as if I was about to whip it into the camera. There is a giant smile on my face, and I can only imagine the glee of Dad – an Ultimate player himself – at seeing his son fall in love with this plastic toy that meant so much to him.
In the last twenty years, the sport (and even that disc) have changed in ways many of us never imagined. We saw world competition catch up to the United States, the rise and fall of UltiVillage, experimental referees come and go and come again; we watched ourselves on ESPN, implemented observers, brought the sport to elementary schools, made ourselves attractive to the top athletes in the world and became one of the fastest growing sports on planet Earth.
On top of all that, in less than a week, we’ll get to enjoy the second consecutive summer with two pro Ultimate leagues in full force.
For me, being a part of one of these leagues is a dream come true. I remember being a ten-year-old kid, throwing bendy forehands to myself in the backyard and commentating the game at the same time:
“Saul goes deep (a kid can dream, right?)! Four seconds left in the game, he catches it over the crowd (still dreaming)! The Yardley Yetis win the game in overtime!”
I imagined myself playing against Alex Nord or Black Tide, throwing 80-yard bombs to my best friends in a game where we were underdogs and had to beat the best club players in the world.
Ten or twelve years later, I’m less than a week away from that dream being realized.
On Saturday, I’ll step on a field in Boston to play against a collection of the best players in Massachusetts and the world (minus my good friend George Stubbs and a few others). I’ll be playing with two former teammates (Matt Wilson and Quinn Hunziker), and I’ll be playing for a coach who knew my name before I hit puberty. And for the first time in my entire Ultimate career, I’ll be doing it without putting a huge dent in my pockets. In fact, I’ll be getting paid to play.
Without diving into the many talking points that defined this offseason, here is what I can say about The League: First, the players are fantastic. Coming from the college program I did, I had legitimate concerns that the level of Ultimate I’d be playing after college wouldn’t compare to what I saw at the National Championships. Philadelphia club is in disarray, Pittsburgh club was traditionally focused on building Pitt Ultimate and New York wasn’t even on my radar. Fortunately for me, Anthony Nuñez reached out and told me about the Rumble. This group is, without question, the best top to bottom team I’ve ever been a part of.
From the first practice we had after tryouts I was thrilled about our talent. I knew that Hunziker and Wilson were dominant players because we had grown up together. I knew Milo Snyder from junior worlds, Ben Faust from Mercer County (MCUDL) summer league, Michael Sender from high school Ultimate, Joe “Smash” Anderson for being the guy with Rec Specs in club, Dan Heijman as a winner from Wisconsin, and Marques Brownlee for being that YouTube kid. But what I didn’t know was how dynamic Chris Mazur would be, how dominantly Robbie Gillies owned the sky or that Sean Murray would jump ship to New York. These names are just a fraction of the full roster, one that I truly can’t see a single weak spot in.
Perhaps the greatest part about this talent is that it has been, quite literally, the only thing I’ve had to worry about. Practice organization, jersey orders, travel arrangements, rule book changes and any of the other petty things you need to worry about at basically every other level of Ultimate are an after-thought here. My focus is solely and entirely on my body and meshing with the tremendous teammates I just inherited. On top of all that, after four years of high school Ultimate, four years of college Ultimate and a lifetime around the sport, I have a deep understanding of this community, the players, the expectations they hold for each other and the level of respect we want to display on the field. Those things, so important and so valued by every person I’ve played this sport with or for, give us all an immediate head start on getting to know each other.
And now, twenty years after throwing that disc to my dad on the beach in Cape Cod, I’m getting prepped to return to Boston, just a short drive from that very sand, wearing new colors and throwing a new disc and ready to do battle with a bunch of new teammates against the league’s best team. I couldn’t be more pumped about it.